Coach Baldwin downplays possible UAAP elims sweep for Ateneo

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MANILA, Philippines – Continued improvement, and not an elimination round sweep, is Tab Baldwin’s priority even as the Ateneo de Manila University Blue Eagles extended their winning streak to 11 games in the UAAP Season 80 men’s basketball tournament.

The Blue Eagles stopped Alvin Pasaol in his tracks and routed University of the East, 97-73, last weekend to improve to 11-0, and ensure that they will have a twice-to-beat advantage in the Final Four.

At this point in the season, however, it is fair to ask if the Blue Eagles will even need that semifinals bonus. After all, they can advance straight to the best-of-three Finals if they win their three remaining games – the last of which is a rematch against defending champion and archrival De La Salle University on November 12.

Yet their head coach stressed that a 14-game elimination round sweep is the least of Ateneo’s concerns right now.

“I don’t care if we’re one win away from the sweep, or 500 wins away from the sweep,” Baldwin declared after their rout of the Red Warriors last week. “The only game that matters is UST.”

The Blue Eagles are gunning for their 12th straight win on Saturday against a University of Santo Tomas (UST) team that has yet to win a game in Season 80.

Yet Baldwin is wary of the Growling Tigers, which gave the Blue Eagles a scare in their round one meeting before Ateneo hacked out a 94-84 victory. “We don’t look past that,” he said.

Besides, even though they are at 11-0, and have the top-ranked offense and defense in the UAAP, Baldwin still sees plenty of room for improvement for the Blue Eagles.

“Our offense was pretty good (against UE),” said Baldwin, noting that they had 26 assists on 38 made field goals. “I thought our defense was patchy, and still, 16 turnovers is not really where we want to be.”

“So, always things to improve on,” he added. “Overall, we rebounded the ball well, and our offensive execution was pretty sharp. So, (there are) a lot of things to be pleased about, but still a lot to improve on.”

No team has swept the elimination round since the UE Red Warriors did the trick in Season 70, although they lost to La Salle in the Finals. The Green Archers came close in Season 79, but the Blue Eagles handed them their lone loss of the tournament in their penultimate game of the elimination round.

Ateneo, meanwhile, nearly pulled off a sweep in Season 74, but lost to Adamson University in their last game of the eliminations. The Blue Eagles still went on to win the championship, their fourth straight UAAP title.

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